How many timelines are the Houston Rockets operating right now?
However many it is, it’s the wrong number.
The Warriors won again on Saturday night, beating the Rockets 120-101. It was Golden State’s fifth win in its last six games. After a tough start to the season, this team is three games back of first place in the Western Conference standings and only one game back of home-court seeding. Yes, the winning machine is up and running again in San Francisco, and Saturday, it took care of a young, inexperienced, learning-on-the-fly Rockets team that at points looked as if it had no idea what it was doing.
Perhaps I’m dating myself, but I vividly remember when these two teams were the NBA’s two best and arch-rivals. It really wasn’t that long ago, I swear.
But Houston’s demise is a reminder of two big things for the Warriors:
1. Do not take the continued and sustained greatness of this team for granted. It’s the exception that proves the rule.2. A typical young player needs hundreds of games before they know how to win in the NBA. If a team is chock full of young players, the whole process is an agony that you don’t even wish upon your worst enemy (as evidenced).
For the Rockets, everything flipped seemingly overnight. Houston’s plan to rebuild wasn’t so much a choice as it was a necessity. James Harden demanded out of Houston before the 2021 season began, and after nine games the Rockets eventually gave in and traded him to the Nets. (Remember that?)
Then first-year Rockets coach Stephen Silas called the Harden drama an “all-around messed up situation” back then.
Left with no superstar in a loaded Western Conference, the Rockets made the prudent decision to start tanking. Bring on those draft picks, baby!
Well, the Rockets are still tanking, three years later.
And it’s probably going to be a few more seasons before the tank ends.
The Warriors, of course, had tanked the season before. It was the byproduct of a roster that needed a full reset after five straight trips to the Finals, paired with Steph Curry missing most of the season and Klay Thompson all of it. (And all the Warriors received for that tank was James Wiseman.)
But the next season, they made the play-in tournament.
And last year, they won the title.
Again, this isn’t normal.
There are a million points where things could have fallen apart for the Warriors on the ride down and back up again. Just recently, Draymond Green’s punch of Jordan Poole led to an “all-around messed up situation” that paired bad behavior, terrible energy, and losing basketball.
And yet here the Dubs are, a few weeks later, as steady as any team in the league, but with far more accomplishments.
Even after everything we saw the first month-plus of the season — it was unambiguously bad, folks— would you place a bet against the Dubs to win the title again in June?
The reasons for this are numerous — Green’s great play, the steadiness of Andrew Wiggins (36 points on Saturday), Klay Thompson’s bounce-back, and Steve Kerr’s coaching all come to mind.
But the reason is truly singular: The Dubs have Curry.
(Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)
I don’t know how long Curry will be a star-level player. He’s done more than hint that he’s trying to be the Tom Brady of basketball, so it could be a while yet.
And perhaps by the time Curry’s best is behind him — be that a few years or another decade from now — the Warriors will have developed or acquired another superstar player that can take on the mantle from him. Perhaps this current core will provide that star.
But that probably won’t happen. The Warriors can only be so lucky. Think about how long it took the Warriors to find Curry in the first place.
Realistically, the best the Warriors organization can do is try to maintain a baseline level of competence for when Curry exits or declines. If the Warriors need to lie to themselves and call that a second “championship timeline” so be it. Perhaps amid that delusion, the Dubs can do enough to hold off the years of rock bottom the Rockets are currently experiencing.
Or maybe not — we saw the 2019-2020 season, after all.
We’ll find out what comes to pass in due time. But in the meantime, as the Dubs keep pushing along, take a moment to savor this one-of-a-kind stretch of success.
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Author: Dieter Kurtenbach